Recycling electronics: is it time to start caring?

broadbandchoices.co.uk research reveals that the majority of Brits recycle their old technology. But do they do enough? And why do it at all? We investigate...

There are few things in life more annoying than being nagged. We've all been there - you're ordered to do something again and again, to the point where you don't want to do it out of spite and irritation.

With that in mind, let's talk about recycling.

We all know recycling is important - we have that lesson drilled into our heads again and again, by environmental groups, by the government, by friends and family. Frankly, the constant sermonising can become grating. As a result, it's far too easy to fall into the trap of just begrudgingly going through the motions - separating paper, plastic and food waste and considering it job done.

But the home contains so much more that can be - and should be - recycled. Particularly when it comes to technology.

TechTalk

A typical 21st century house is full of technology - from flashy mobile phones to snazzy TV sets. But tech, like most things in life - be it cars or the contents of my wardrobe - eventually either wears out or becomes hopelessly out of date. You can try to repair it, but if that's out of the question what do you do?

You recycle it of course! At least, most of us do. Recent research from broadbandchoices.co.uk found that just over three quarters of Brits have recycled old technology. This is something James Lane, UK director for Freecycle - an online service that lets users swap unwanted items - believes is vital.

"There's a worrying amount of reusable stuff heading to landfills and recycling that stuff is vital to our environment," he says.

Lane reveals that users sharing technology and other products on Freecycle prevents up to 32,000 items each day from ending up in landfills. "That's 1,000 tons a day," he explains.

"If you were to load all that stuff into trucks and stack them, it would amount to more than 15 times the height of Mount Everest over the past year alone!"

Think about that - damage to the environment aside, a mountain of abandoned routers, handsets, and TVs would be quite the eyesore. Unless you lived in Milton Keynes at least. It's reassuring then that the majority of Brits seem willing to do what they can to avoid such eye-popping amounts of waste.

Time please

Of course, the other side to the research is that almost a quarter don't recycle their tech. According to Fay Shannon, brand manager for mobile phone recycling company Envirofone, this can potentially result in very serious problems.

"Think of all the effort that goes into separating packing and food waste in our everyday lives," she says. "Phones, iPads etc are not banana skins, they are not biodegradable - they don't just eventually break down on their own.

"One mobile phone in the bin isn't a problem; but with the average household estimated to have four unused mobile phones, if even just a small percentage of these were all carted off to landfills, then you have a major problem. Electronics sitting around in unmanaged heaps leaking corrosive chemicals into the soil and water table - chemicals which can take 20 years to break down."

Be kind recycle

Shannon's not wrong - and Britain's landfills are filling fast. The fact is, at the risk of joining the nagging hordes, we need to recycle. So what's stopping people from doing it for old or broken tech? According to the broadbandchoices study, the most common reason is people simply don't have the time. Not only that, but a lack of understanding about how to recycle gadgets - or even that you could - were also cited by many as the reason not to recycle.

All of which leaves companies and the government with the task of not only educating people about reusing or recycling their devices, but also trying to convince them that it's worth their time. Freecycle's James Lane believes the key isn't playing on people's guilt, but rather helping them receive a positive experience.

He says: "Convincing people they can adopt recycling as a viable method is simply about showing them that it's fast, easy and rewarding. There needs to be a 'carrot'; for some this is a 'feelgood' feeling they've helped our environment and for some it's about knowing they've helped a neighbour."

How can I recycle my unwanted technology?

So let's say that, like me, you have a pile of old technology lying pointlessly round the house (also like me). What are your options? Fay Shannon explains there are plenty of responsible ways to dispose of it.

"Some councils run an electronics recycling / disposal service which they might charge for. You also have retailers that will offer to take back your old piece of kit for free when you replace it," she explains.

As someone who deals primarily with handsets, she also offers specific advice about what to do with any clunky old mobiles you've got stuffed in a drawer.

"One of the easiest ways is to sell it on a recycling site. A lot of people would be surprised at how much you can get for an old mobile phone. When you upgrade, what else are you going to do with your old phone? Keep it as a spare? Yeah, because they always get used! You can also sell faulty or broken phones. You won't get as much cash, but what else are you going to do with it?"

Nagging feelings

If you don't currently recycle your gadgets and gizmos, it's well worth researching ways to recycle tech in your area, from taking it to a local recycling centre to selling or giving it away online. If, as our survey indicates, you do, it's worth examining whether you can do more.

Not out of obligation and because people are insisting that you do, but because it's ultimately beneficial to you and your community. And more importantly, you can often make a few bob in the process.

Lane says that "once people are aware of the impact of recycling - and how easy it now is - we find they tend to be very excited to get involved".

Are you?

Do you recycle your old technology or do you tend to leave your gadgets collecting dust? Let us know in the comments.

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